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As the film world looks to Hollywood tonight for the 2017 Academy Awards, La La Land is the movie everyone’s talking about, but every year, there are a wave of contenders that can get all too easily overlooked: the Oscar nominated short films.
Luckily, these days the whole lot get released on VOD in the UK in time for the ceremony, so everyone has the chance to unearth and appreciate some fantastic gems. With an impressively diverse collection for 2017, they offer a chance to see filmmakers from around the world producing some of this year’s most interesting, and unusual, Oscar nominees. (For a guide to which nominees are available on VOD in the UK, from Netflix to BBC iPlayer, click here.)
Note: Due to Disney retaining the rights to its release, Pixar’s short, Piper, is not included in the digital collection of animation Oscar nominees.
A Google Spotlight film, this animation is notable for its 360-degree format, which allows you to immerse yourself in the world of a young girl and dad, who live out of their hatchback car. Fortunately, that’s not the only notable thing about it, as Patrick Osbourne (director of 2014’s Animated Short winner, Feast) sketches their rough lives in a suitably rough style, accompanying the ramshackle tone with a charming soundtrack that, like a song passed down through generations, carries warmth across every frame.
The longest of the bunch, directors Robert Valley and Cara Speller chart the attempt of one man to try and rescue a friend of his, the brilliantly named Techno Stypes, after he becomes hospitalised in China and needs an organ transplant. Narrated in first person, the account of Techno and Robert’s relationship is full of hard-boiled one-liners and darkly comic anecdotes. There isn’t always quite as much depth as you’d like beneath the noirish, graphic novel-tinged surface, but oh, what surface! This is stunning stuff – and begs for a feature film to tell the whole story in more detail.
Instead of Piper, the Oscar nominees collection includes a “highly commended” animated short, called Incide 50, which follows a family’s attempt to defend themselves from an errant mosquito. Playing with horror and action tropes, the brightly coloured, rounded visuals are a witty, squidgy treat.
Theodure Ushev’s uniquely animated tale captures the fantastical existence of its titular young girl, who is cursed to have a left eye that sees the past and a right eye that sees the future. As she struggles to reconcile the two, the result is a curious parable that challenges us to consider the way we view life. Its gothic imagery leaves a haunting impression.
Who said the best westerns have to be big? Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj’s tiny slice of genre action sees a sheriff return to the scene of an accident from his past. The result is a wee little epic of grand emotion – and beautiful style.
The best of this year’s nominees, by quite some distance, is this fantastic short from Hungary, which follows Zsofi, the new girl at school. Keen to make friends, she signs up for the choir, only for her cruel teacher to tell her to mime instead, because she’s not good enough. Zsófia Szamosi is horribly callous as Erika, the teacher, who’s more concerned with winning a singing competition than connecting with the children through music. But Dorka Gáspárfalvi’s irresistibly winning heroine inspires a rebellion with a friend that will leave you speechless come the pitch-perfect ending. Directed with wit, sympathy and classy composition by Kristof Deák and Anna Udvardy, this 25-minute piece is an utter joy.
Starting with the titular Christmas carol, you might think Silent Nights is an odd one to be watching in February, but Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson’s story is quietly topical tale of trust and hospitality, as we follow the burgeoning relationship between a young Danish woman, Inger, who works at a homeless shelter, and Kwame, an immigrant from Ghana. The cast are superb, with Inger’s facial expressions conveying a whole wave of emotions just while looking at a mobile phone screen.
Another topical tale, Ennemis Interieurs benefits from a sharper approach to the subject of immigration, as we watch a French police officer interrogate a French-born Algerian man seeking citizenship. Set in the 1990s, as the Algerian civil war rages in the background, it’s almost a two-hander between the men, giving the whole bureaucratic back-and-forth a bristling, nuanced tension.
If you prefer your Oscar nominees to be more La La Land than Moonlight, Spanish short Timecode is for you. Juanjo Gimenez’s film follows a car park security guard, Luna, who finds herself bonding through CCTV footage with another attendant – and they discover a shared way of alleviating their boredom. Playing out with minimal dialogue, this is a slight, but delightfully whimsical comedy.
Jane Birkin stars in this charming short about an elderly woman, who has been waving at the titular express train every day as it passes by her back door. A relationship forms between her and the conductor of the train, which makes up for its unlikely nature with its cheerful earnestness – a lovely little antidote to last year’s misjudged adaptation of The Girl on the Train.
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